Fall Protection in the Construction Industry

Falls are the most frequent cause of fatalities at construction sites. It accounts for one of every three construction-related deaths yearly. Most fall injuries are caused by falls from ladders but they are non-fatal injuries while Falls from roofs are the most frequent cause for fatal falls.

Below is a scenario that emphasizes the importance of the fall protection system to both the employee and the employers.

CASE SCENARIO:

Juan Becerra, a construction worker who died after falling more than 100 feet from SoFi Stadium’s roof
Becerra fell an estimated 110 feet on June 5, 2020, from the southeast corner of the stadium near a concrete column that supports the massive structure. The family of the deceased filed a lawsuit that alleges that unsafe working conditions led to Juan Becerra’s death at the $5-billion project in Inglewood.
The lawsuit alleges a roof panel was removed “without notice to workers including Decedent or barriers being placed to protect against the newly-created fall hazard,” which led to the accident. It also says that “fall protection equipment” wasn’t present “at and around the location of the fall.”
The complaint holds that “Due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the required completion date is August 2020 for the forthcoming NFL season, work was unnecessarily and unsafely hurried by the Defendants (the construction companies), resulting in the lack of appropriate safety precautions and lack of a safe workspace, which were a substantial factor in causing the fall.”

Fall Prevention Methods

Employers apply the use of a fall protection system to prevent falls. Nonetheless, fall prevention can also be accomplished by:

  1. Making fall protection part of the construction worksite safety and health program
  2. Identifying and evaluating fall hazards
  3. Eliminating fall hazards, if possible
  4. Training workers to recognize fall hazards
  5. Applying appropriate equipment to prevent falls and protect workers if they do fall
  6. Inspecting and maintaining fall-protection equipment before and after use
  7. Get conversant with OSHA and company fall-protection rules

Types of fall protection systems

There are seven general fall-protection systems, namely:

  • Personal fall-arrest system (PFAS) arrests a fall
  • The personal fall-restraint system prevents a fall
  • Positioning-device system positions a worker and limits a fall to 2 feet
  • Guardrail system prevents a fall.
  • Safety-net system arrests a fall
  • Warning-line system for roofing work warns a worker of a fall hazard
  • Slide-guard system prevents a worker from sliding down a sloped roof

These fall protection systems have been discussed in a previous post you will find here.

Fall protection in Construction
Fall Protection System with Full body Harness, Lanyard and Snap hook

Other Fall Protection Methods

The following methods may also be appropriate for preventing falls:

1. Safety monitoring for roofing work:

This is a method in which a person, rather than a mechanical system, warns roofers when they are in danger of falling. The monitor (i.e. a competent person) is responsible for recognizing fall hazards and warning workers about them. Safety monitoring can be used only to protect those who do roofing work on roofs that have slopes no greater than 2:12 and widths no greater than 50 feet. For roofs wider than 50 feet, safety monitoring must be incorporated with a warning-line system that will also protect the workers.

The safety monitor’s responsibilities are to:

  • recognize fall hazards
  • warn employees when they are unaware of hazards or aren’t working safely
  • stay on the same walking/working surface as the workers to see them and to communicate with them while they are working
  • avoid any other work or distracting activity while monitoring the workers

Only those who are doing roofing work are permitted in the area controlled by the safety monitor. Mechanical equipment can’t be used or stored in the area.

2. Catch platforms:

Catch platforms consist of a stable platform and an attached standard guardrail, it can protect roofers when other systems or methods are not feasible. Platform guidelines:

  • It should not be more than 18 inches below the eave line of the roof.
  • It should extend horizontally at least 2 feet beyond the eave line of the roof.
  • It must have a standard guardrail and toeboards. The top guardrail should rise substantially (at least 12 inches) above the eave line of the roof. Install intermediate rails or a solid barrier between the top rail and the platform to prevent a worker from sliding under the top rail.

3. Covers for holes:

Hole covers are simple and effective when they’re properly installed, rigid covers prevent workers from falling through skylights or temporary openings and holes in walking/working surfaces.

Safety criteria for covers:

  • Covers will support at least two times the maximum expected weight of workers, equipment, and materials. Skylights are not considered covers unless they meet this strength requirement.
  • They are secured to prevent accidental displacement.
  • They have a full edge bearing on all four sides.
  • They are painted with a distinctive color or marked with the word HOLE or COVER.

Skylight covers are necessary to protect workers walking/working on roof surfaces.

4. Fences and Barricades

Fences and barricades are warning barriers. They are usually made from posts and wire or boards that keep people away from hazards such as wells, pits, and shafts.

5. Protecting Workers from Falling Objects

You need to protect yourself from falling when you work on an elevated surface and be aware of those working above or below you. Protect yourself and others from falling objects with one of the following methods:

  • Canopies: Make sure canopies won’t collapse or tear from an object’s impact.
  • Toeboards: Toeboards must be least 3½ inches high and strong enough to withstand a force of at least 50 pounds applied downward or outward.
  • Panels and screens: If you need to pile material higher than the top edge of a toeboard, install panels or screens to keep the material from dropping over the edge.
  • Barricades and fences: Use them to keep people away from areas where falling objects could hit them.

When doing overhand bricklaying, keep materials and equipment (except masonry and mortar) at least 4 feet from the working edge. When doing roofing work, keep materials and equipment at least 6 feet from the roof edge unless there are guardrails along the edge. All piled, grouped, or stacked material near the roof edge must be stable and self-supporting.

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